It was the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) cross country meet and Loyola was slated to place in the top three in the conference. The runners took their marks. The shotgun start rang and the race began. Just 100 meters into the race, a sudden turn tripped up a large group of runners — resulting in a fall that would impact how the race would end. Loyola took seventh at conference, a finish that disappointed Ramblers but now motivates them to improve their race in the upcoming season.
Junior Chandler Diffee said he thinks it’s important to learn from the misfortune at the conference meet and move past it.
“I think we’re kind of building off that momentum and keeping in mind what happened at conference last year and how easy it is to go from third in the conference to seventh,” said the Madison, Wisconsin, native. “It’s a tough conference, and it’s really easy to slip like that so we really have to be hyper-focused and keep working toward the conference meet.”
Coach Randy Hasenbank, who is entering his fifth year coaching the Ramblers, said he believes the cross country program is tradition-based, in the sense that the program passes on its way of practicing and competing, dating back to the 1960s. In the last four years, Hasenbank has established a system that is welcoming to new runners.
“I think there’s some continuity [in the program] and all the guys know what to do,” said Hasenbank. “The seniors followed a good group [of leaders] and the juniors followed that good group of seniors. So because of that, every practice runs smoother and smoother and the expectations become clearer and clearer.”
The tradition of the program and the hefty number of returners help make the Ramblers’ team chemistry more authentic and reduce the amount of pressure on incoming talent. Diffee, a physics major, said the team’s bond makes it easy for freshmen to feel welcome, which is helpful for Mason Moore and Kevin White — two freshmen who are projected to make positive contributions to the team this season.
“The way our team is structured is really helpful because we allow the freshmen to get in there, and I guess they don’t feel the pressure to be the number one guy, but they’re also able to contribute right away which is good exposure for them,” Diffee said.
Last year, the Ramblers were led by seniors Sam Penzenstadler and Andrew Fenske, two key components to the team.
Senior Mitch Baum said he believes the team has a lot of depth and talent this year, and that it has high potential for success.
“We have to be confident in what we know we can accomplish,” said the secondary education and math double major with honors. “When we pull it all together on a good day we can give any other team a run for their money … I think we’ll be able to pull together a nice conference and regional team where we’ll be able to work as a really cohesive unit since we do have good team flow.”
For now, Loyola will continue to feed its hunger to redeem itself from last year’s conference meet by training throughout the season. The Ramblers are currently ranked fifth in the MVC preseason polls, which Hasenbank thinks is fair in the shadows of last season’s disappointing end.
The Ramblers will begin their season at the Thomas Zimmer Open Sept. 4 in Madison, Wisconsin.